THE BLOG

Knit and Breathe

05/18/2015 11:13 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

I didn't learn to knit because I'm a crafty person. I'm creative, sure, but more in a "how can we make this work?" kind of way rather than a "let's make this pretty" way. I didn't learn to knit because my mother taught me; her mother didn't teach her either. In fact, I don't know any women in my family who actively knit or crochet. And I didn't learn to knit because I just LOVE knit objects and couldn't help myself.

I learned to knit because I was desperate.

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A few years ago, I was freelancing in a high-stress industry that expected a minimum of 12 hours of work a day, usually six days a week. I loved my job, but those hours and that stress -- not to mention the commute -- was just too much. I had great friends and family, but finding time to see them was just as stressful as working. Not to mention, constantly disappointing them when I couldn't show up wasn't fun either.

The lack of friend and family contact started to get to me. My exhaustion led to depression, and I started spending my free time alone in my room with Netflix. I'm a huge supporter of Netflix binges, but only in moderation. When it's the only thing you do outside of work, that's when it becomes a problem.

It was bad enough that I was tired and unhappy most of the time, but then, as it so often happens, my depression led way for anxiety. Feeling anxious was probably the worst thing I've ever experienced up until that point. I used to love going out and chatting with old friends, but when I tried my whole body would shake, my breathing would labor, and my vision would blur. Oh, and I did I mention that I would get lightheaded and have trouble walking? Not fun.

In an act of desperation, I quit freelancing and found a boring job in an office with normal hours. If you think making a radical change like that would be a cure-all, you'd be wrong. It just made things worse because I started having huge second thoughts about leaving my career.

This was all a few years ago, back before the Affordable Care Act. Back when freelancers were screwed on options, and you were denied health care because of pre-existing conditions. (And no, my new office job didn't offer health insurance, either.)

I couldn't afford psychiatric help in New York City, though I'm a huge believer in it. Seriously, if you can go, you should. But I didn't have that option at the time. So what to do?

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At my new, terribly boring office job, I had become a news junkie. In between all of the horrible stories about rapes and shootings and other disasters, there was a study about how working with your hands was good for you and good for your brain.

I already loved cooking, sewing and gardening (though my skills at the last two are somewhat questionable), but it wasn't enough. I needed something else, something where if I messed up, I could just start over instead of ruining (or killing) my project.

I actively avoided knitting for a very long time. Friends would try to get me to take knitting classes with them, and I refused. What's the point of knitting, anyway? I have plenty of scarves. Thanks, but no thanks.

But when it becomes a struggle to leave the house, you'll try anything. Including knitting. It helps to see articles from CNN and Canadian Living, among others, always popping up and touting knitting as being wonderful for your brain. I decided to give it a shot.

I tried teaching myself to knit, rather unsuccessfully, from a variety of YouTube videos. The quality wasn't that great, and it was a bit of a struggle at first.

I was so irritated that I couldn't learn from home that I sucked it up, rounded up some friends, arranged for private lessons, and spent my evenings working on a lace blanket. I started going to knitting meet-ups so I could meet other knitters and improve my skills, and slowly, my anxiety and depression started to slip away.

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To say that knitting pulled me out of my deep rut is a bit of an understatement. I believe knitting saved my life, and I didn't even realize it was helping because I was so focused on figuring out which needle went into which hole to make a pretty design (or at least something recognizable) that I didn't have time to worry about the stresses of my life.

Now I try to always keep my knitting projects nearby, and I usually have a couple going at the same time. I love knitting each night to take my mind off the day. Sometimes, if I know it's going to be a hectic day, I'll knit in the mornings before I get going.

It's my favorite form of mindful meditation. I take a few minutes for myself each day, focus on my breathing, on the feel of the yarn in my hands, and I listen to the clicking of the needles as I work. I can zone out from the ambush of negative and stressful thoughts that sometimes invade my consciousness AND be productive at the same time.

I cannot endorse knitting enough. I even started offering knitting courses online as a way to reach out to others who still want a safe, home-based activity that helps them achieve a little bit of peace (and a finished project!). Knitting helped me fall back in love with the world, it saved my life, and it just might save yours too.